Hybrid Horsepower

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Nov - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Nov - 2005
Hybrid Horsepower
With rising fuel costs, there's enough cause for concern that cars may soon become a mode of transport only for the rich. Far-fetched as it may sound, the reason for rising fuel costs is the exponentially falling availability of crude oil.

Contrary to other reasons that may have been cited (oil mafia and what not), this is a real threat, and may soon skyrocket prices of even the most mundane everyday supplies. How? Well, an economy depends upon oil and fuel for transporting goods and a rise in this commodity has a direct effect on everything else.

However, technological advances in the last few decades have given hope that this threat may just yet be avoided. The emergence of hybrid cars-those that run on conventional fuel as well as alternative forms of fuel-has meant that there are cheaper options that may soon become a reality.

In first-world countries, there are cars that use hybrid technology successfully and commercially. For the moment, though, this is restricted to passenger cars, and is not available for bigger vehicles. But what exactly is a hybrid car and how does it work? Moreover, what are the alternative sources of fuel? We answer these and many more questions related to alternative motoring.

If a device uses two or more sources of power to run, it's called a hybrid. For example, we can even say that a moped is a hybrid, as it includes two types of energy input-a motorised engine and a foot pedal.

Hybrid cars are those that run on both a rechargeable battery and fuel. There are also some hybrids that use petrol and another form of fuel: biodiesel, created from the Jatropha plant that grows only in certain areas of the world-including India.

There are two types of hybrid cars-parallel and serial. The parallel hybrid has a petrol engine that runs off a fuel tank, and also has an electric engine that is powered by a set of batteries. The advantage is that the electric engine can turn the transmission and take care of initial acceleration, without having the petrol engine do any work.

The other kind of hybrid-the series hybrid-uses a petrol engine to power a generator. This generator can either charge the batteries or power the electric motor that drives the transmission. Thus, in a series hybrid, the petrol engine never directly turns the transmission.

Hybrid Components
A hybrid car contains the following parts:
Petrol engine: A hybrid car's petrol engine is similar to regular ones, but these engines are smaller and uses advanced technologies to reduce emissions and increase efficiency.

Electric motor: The electric motor powering a hybrid car is very sophisticated. Advanced electronics allow it to act as a motor cum generator. Thus, the motor can draw energy from the batteries to accelerate the car, and also act as a generator and return energy to the batteries when it slows down.

This also happens to be the biggest difference between a hybrid car and fully electric car, as the latter needs to be recharged often, whereas the battery in a hybrid car recharges when the petrol engine is being used, or when the electric motor acts as a generator.

Batteries: The batteries in a hybrid car are the energy storage device for the electric motor. Unlike the petrol engine, which only draws fuel from the tank, the electric motor can draw energy from the batteries as well as put energy back. Actually, it's a set of nickel metal hydride batteries that the electric engine draws its power from.

Design: While the car is perfectly set under the hood, what's covering it is equally important. A frame built for maximum aerodynamics and minimum requisite weight will ensure the best fuel efficiency and a massive reduction in emissions.

Concept Hybrids 
Like with any new car that's built from the ground up, a new hybrid has to be constructed at the drawing board first. Here's some information from the Net about some concept cars.

Volvo 3CC
Designers, engineers and business people at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center think-tank in California came up with the 3CC when confronted with the task of creating a 'future-proof concept' that would enhance sustainable mobility. The idea was to make a car that was not only fuel-efficient, versatile, comfortable and safe, but also exciting to drive and look at.

In the 3CC, Volvo aimed to attractively present a concept that focused on efficient mobility. This was achieved through good aerodynamics on a compact footprint, light-weight body material, and an electric powertrain. Volvo opted to give the 3CC a high strength steel space frame and composite sandwich floor panels for safety and reduced weight. In fact, the outer body is a bonded one piece carbon fibre shell.
With a potential driving range of over 300 km under certain driving conditions, the torque-to-weight ratio is roughly comparable to the V70 T5 but available over 0-3,500 rpm.
This performance is achieved using a drivetrain that has been specifically designed for the 3CC, although it, too, is a prototype. The electric power comes from lithium-ion cells that are identical to those used in modern laptop computers that are packaged in the thin sandwich floor.

Toyota Volta
Way back in 1800, Count Alessandro Volta arranged zinc and copper discs in a column and invented the battery. Circa 2004, Toyota electrified automotive history with the first high-performance hybrid, named in his honour.

The Giugiaro-designed carbon-fibre body seats three people abreast and features "drive-by-wire" controls, allowing you to position the steering wheel and pedals in front of any oneof them. And the Volta's 408-hp Hybrid Synergy Drive (a 3.3-litre V6 with an electric motor for each axle) not only delivers 700 km on a 52 litre tank, but also facilitates 0-80 kmph acceleration in about four seconds.
Operating electronics enable the power transmitted by the electric motors to the wheels to be modulated, thereby rendering superfluous the gear/clutch unit. Housed under the lightweight, carbon-fibre chassis  are the batteries, weighing 70 kg.

Ford Escape
Ford has also unveiled a petrol-electric hybrid Escape sport-utility and it's being offered to consumers in the US since last year.
Ford claims that the Escape Hybrid's 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, 300-volt battery, and 65-kilowatt electric motor provide acceleration comparable to the regular Escape's optional 201-hp V-6 engine while delivering 56 to 65 km/litre in the city.

Ford claims that its hybrid-electric system is more sophisticated than those of its competitors, as it has a larger storage battery and the capability of driving on electric power alone.
The price premium over a regular Escape, Ford says, will be roughly equivalent to the savings in fuel that the Escape Hybrid will provide. It costs approximately Rs 13,00,000.

Computer Control

For the entire ride, a hybrid car's inbuilt computer calculates when to let the petrol engine do the work, and the kind of boost it needs from the electric motor. The onboard computer is also actively involved in calculating and deciding when to reclaim excess energy while driving using the electric motor.

The computer also monitors the amount of charge in the batteries, ensuring they are always between 30 and 80 per cent charged. This allows the batteries to last almost 3,000 to 3,500 km-not bad at all!

In the Toyota Prius, a hybrid car, when you accelerate, you really control a device that tells the inbuilt computer how fast you want to go. The computer makes decisions about when to use the petrol engine, when to go electric, or when to use a combination of both.

Mass Acceptance...
So why doesn't everybody-at least in the US-just go out and buy a hybrid car? Several celebrities including Cameron Diaz and Leonardo Dicaprio are big fans of their hybrid cars, but the cars still have not made a big impact on the average consumer: misconceptions exist.

For example, people believe that the cars have to be plugged in to get recharged. There's also the common perception that all alternative fuel cars run slow-this, however, isn't true anymore.

Electric cars used to be a little funny-looking, at one point of time, and, unfortunately, this stereotypical image has passed  on to hybrids as well.  And finally, there's also the question of whether hybrids are indeed the way forward.

The Current Buzz
Many question the very sanity of focusing on hybrid cars for the future: we all know that our crude oil supplies will not last for long. The point raised by these dissenters is quite simply, why waste time on a technology that still pretty much depends on derivatives of crude oil? Since hybrids use both fuel and electric motors to power themselves, what happens when the fuel runs out? At best, a mass adoption of hybrid cars will merely delay the inevitable. This is where research for alternative power sources is headed.

Why Are Hybrid Cars A Good Idea? 
Hybrid cars are good for the environment. They can reduce smog by 90 per cent and use far less petrol than conventional cars.
Hybrid cars are economical. They can offer mileages of up to 25 km per litre for city driving-while a typical SUV might travel 8-10 km per litre, or use three times as much petrol for the same distance!
Hybrids are better than all-electric cars because hybrid car batteries recharge as you drive so there is no need to plug in repeatedly.
Though until a few years ago most electric cars could not match the speeds of fuel-driven cars, today, certain electric and hybrid cars can attain speeds of more than 350 kmph-and let's face it, we really don't need to go any faster than that!

Fuel Cells
Don't be fooled by the word "fuel" here, because fuel cell powered cars generally use a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Basically, in such cars, hydrogen is combined with oxygen to produce energy, and only one by-product is formed-hydrogen oxide, better known as water! There are, therefore, no harmful gases released into the atmosphere to damage the ozone layer; there's enough fuel to go around, and if you get thirsty, you can always pop open your car and have a drink of pure water! It's only a matter of time before we see fuel cell cars becoming commercial, as fully functional prototypes already exist.

The Honda 2006 FCX Fuel Cell
A prototype of this car was recently unveiled by Honda. The car has a 107 horsepower engine that is powered by hydrogen. The car can store a little over 150 litres of highly compressed hydrogen, has a top speed of 150 kmph, and mileage of 190 km on a full tank. The car is as stylish as any other in the sedan class, and as we mentioned earlier, does not pollute at all.

Looking Forward
In the near future, it's obvious that alternative technologies and fuels will be needed, and the first place these changes will occur will be with our gas guzzling transport vehicles. Thanks to research being done on electric, hybrid and fuel cell powered cars, we at least have a vision of what destiny holds in store.

The only thing standing in the way of prototypes hitting the production lines is mass acceptance. It's time we started to think for the future, think about saving the environment, as well as think about how much money we will save in the long run. Now that you know better, the choice is all yours!

Team DigitTeam Digit

All of us are better than one of us.